Minimalism isn’t just for the affluent

There’s a criticism of voluntary simplicity or minimalism (two flavors of the same thing) that seems to be widely accepted: that it’s a luxury of relatively affluent people, that it’s not something the poor can afford to do.

I disagree: anyone can do it.

Minimalism is simply eliminating the unnecessary. And while the poor (anyone who’s not in the middle class or above) might not have the ridiculously unnecessary things that the affluent have, there are usually things that can be eliminated.

The photos of minimalist houses, desks, and Macs that you see on many minimalist sites are obviously for the affluent — they have expensive furniture, computers, gadgets, homes that aren’t affordable for many people. But that’s not a requirement of minimalism.

In fact, there isn’t a requirement for minimalism. You can invent your own version, and if you’re more worried about how to survive until the next paycheck (I’ve been there), then cutting back on the unnecessary will help you get there. Look for unnecessary expenses (like eating out, going to the movies, buying junk food snacks, or renting DVDs) and eliminate them, finding ways to have fun that are free.

Eliminating unnecessary possessions also means you’ll need a smaller home, which will save on rent and heating/cooling. Buying fewer things means less debt. Spending time with loved ones or doing things you love means you spend less. All of these things are good whether you’re wealthy or not.

It’s true that the poor are often thought of as not having the luxury of even thinking about simplifying, or minimalism. They’re too worried about putting food on the table, or where the rent is coming from, or how to avoid creditors until the next paycheck. And there’s a lot of truth in that. But it doesn’t have to be true: anyone can pause, breathe, and decide to live differently.

Anyone can make the decision to do without the unnecessary, to cut off cable TV, to consider doing without a car, to only buy what’s absolutely necessary and to rethink what’s necessary. I’ve been deep in debt, and I know the feeling of drowning with no way to get out. I got out, mostly because I cut expenses to the bone while looking for ways to increase income. Minimalism helped me to get out of debt, and to get out of poverty. It’s not just for the affluent anymore.

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